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Has our society completely ignored the concept of matriarchy? What can we learn from matriarchal societies?
Has our society completely ignored the concept of matriarchy? What can we learn from matriarchal societies?
Is matriarchy just an absurd concept? An idea that can appear only in feminist fiction? Or a state which is completely unnatural in itself?
Matriarchy vs. patriarchy is an age old debate and I find no harm in revisiting it. Cynthia Eller in her book, The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory says that the concept of matriarchy is false and in no way compliments the feminist movement. She argued that equality and the rule of women is a myth and must be rejected altogether. At a very fundamental level, I cannot agree with her. I do not know how practical matriarchy is, or if it calls for a great amount of practical innovation just to think about it, but atleast as a concept I believe it is worthy of discussion.
In contrast to Cynthia, Gerda Lerner in her book, The Creation of Patriarchy, vividly describes how patriarchy was a human made concept and is bound to end one day. Such a notion might be farfetched in the present social setting, but as I said, it deserves to be thought of.
I am reading Anthropology these days and whenever I read about matriarchal or matrilineal societies, I wonder why the feminist movement is silent on this. Perhaps people don’t know about the practical existence of such societies in the past or even in the present times or they just feel the concept is so unintelligent that discussing about it would do no good. Whatever is the case, as such societies exist and provide for a solution to many inherent problems of patriarchy, I am proceeding with this article.
Before getting to the serious matriarchal societies, there is the case of the weirdly funny Indian television matriarch, where she gets some magical powers in her husband’s home and is very clearly unwanted in her natal home. Her only source of power is her husband’s name, her finance and economics confined to the petty “Stridhan” she receives as the religiously sanctioned endowment and is completely dependent on her husband’s status for her recognition.
Still in her own ways, she is most powerful. She is the sole authority to decide how many sons her “bahu” must produce, how many marriages her son has to get into, and the like. All these “Saas Bahu” serials are comic reflections of unfortunate realities. Women today are getting economically independent but are still, somehow, dependent on the “name” of a man. Her existence is still pendulous, she is still expected to take the name of her husband, and even if she doesn’t do it by choice, it happens automatically. Infact with changing times, patriarchy has become an awkward juxtaposition of enhanced responsibilities for women (home and workplace) where at the same time she also has to be grateful to the society for all the freedom she is granted. Even today, marriage in India is not seen in the light of companionship or mutual support, rather as a source of identity for a girl. All such situations are nothing but manifestations of patriarchy.
Even today, marriage in India is not seen in the light of companionship or mutual support, rather as a source of identity for a girl.Never miss real stories from India's women.Register Now
Even today, marriage in India is not seen in the light of companionship or mutual support, rather as a source of identity for a girl.
While reading Anthropology I came across two very interesting societies. The Khasis of Meghalaya and the Kibbutz of Israel.
India, very proudly, is home to one the rarest matriarchal communities, the Khasis. Khasi people are the indigenous inhabitants of Meghalaya. Khasi women inherit the property and the children get their mother’s name. All the religious services are performed by women. The man after marriage moves to his wife’s house. The most important aspect of this community is the perfect balance they create in their roles. Men and women are equal when it comes to child rearing. Men take care of the betel farms (their primary source of living) and women help in processing etc. back at home. So, like the traditional patriarchal setup, men go out to the farm and women mostly are engaged in work at home. But as women hold the vital power of property and name, they are treated on par by default.
Men go out, earn money, hand it over to their wives and the property they create is inherited by their daughter. In this process everyone gets their due and the balance is established. Men are required because they take care of the farms (or financial aspects) and women are required because they inherit property, carry the family name and extend the family line. The Khasi language has no word for rape in it and dowry and female foeticide are unknown to them.
In patriarchy, men are expected to earn the living and the property thus created is inherited by men themselves. Woman comes into the picture just to give birth and take care of the family. Moreover, she is also the one who takes property out of the family. In this setup, going by pure economics, a girl is a liability, a loss and hence, unwanted.
Then there is Kibbutz of Israel, another very interesting setup. Here a conscious effort was made to establish gender equality. Quoting from the Wikipedia page on Kibbutz community, “Women were only seen as separate because they gave birth to children, automatically tying them to the domestic sphere. In order to liberate women and promote gender equality, they could not be tied to solely domestic duties and child care giving. The Kibbutz wanted to give women the opportunity to continue their work in the agricultural sector and industrial sector. To solve these issues the founders created the communal children’s houses, where the children would spend most of their time; learning, playing and sleeping. Parents spent 3 to 4 hours a day in the afternoon with their children after work and before dinner. This is actually a lot more quality time for parents to spend with their kids than in other societies. Collective child rearing was also a way to escape the patriarchal society that the founders came from. Children would not be dependent on their fathers economically, socially, legally or otherwise and this would eliminate the father’s authority and uproot the patriarchy”. This was how the Kibbutz community was established.
When I find some really awesome and workable solutions in matriarchy and other such innovative setups, I wonder, what stops us from integrating them into our social system?
I was once discussing all this with a friend and she said “You have no brother, have an amazing family, then why do you bother”. I do have an amazing family and everything is perfectly in place for me; still, I am bothered because not everyone is as privileged as I am and not every family is as liberal and understanding as mine is.
When I look around and find families visiting temples and organizing “havans” for a male child, hiding the news of a baby girl being born, spending lavishly to celebrate the birth of a male child, making their sons study in the best schools possible and compromising on the education of their girls, I find nothing else to blame but patriarchy. And when I find some really awesome and workable solutions in matriarchy and other such innovative setups, I wonder, what stops us from integrating them into our social system? What stops our impulse, imagination and courage to accept new ideas gain ground? What stops us from at least having a discussion?
Image of dolls via Shutterstock
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My house-help asked excitedly, “I am going for wedding. Can you let me wear your red & black saree? To be honest I was stumped for a moment; I didn’t know what to say but I still said yes.
I lent a gorgeous saree to my house-help for a wedding in her family. Soon I stated getting questions if I would wear that saree again or if I was okay to be seen wearing the same saree my house-help was wearing?
We are all so conditioned to give our used clothes to our house-helps but are we okay to wear the clothes they were wearing?
A few days ago she came excitedly to me, “I am going for a family wedding. I want to wear your red & black saree, Ill wash and give it to you after the function. Please can you let me wear it?”
Beauty is a very clever, very evil capitalist tool. It traps those who have it into hanging on to it for dear life and those who don't into mutilating, torturing themselves to achieve the unachievable.
I recently wrote a piece about MP Shashi Tharoor’s tweet in which he had shared a pic with six women parliamentarians tagging them and saying “Who says the Lok Sabha isn’t an attractive place to work?”
There was a rash of comments on the post shared on Instagram, which ranged from “chill, it’s just a compliment” and “stop overthinking compliments”, to (worried) men lamenting about “these feminazi”.
Here’s my answer to all those comments.
“That my dear is your definition. If you choose to define yourself thus that is going to be your lot.” Cantadora paused”... remember the design of the mother, daughter, wife or sister is chosen by you.”
“That my dear is your definition. If you choose to define yourself thus that is going to be your lot.” Cantadora paused”… remember the design of the mother, daughter, wife or sister is chosen by you.”
With shadows of women around the bonfire, it evoked the memories of the opening of Girish Karnad’s Nagamandala. As the kitchen cinders cool, the flame from every stove hurries down to the broken temple where they gossip about the kitchen that they dwell. It could have well been that.
To Alana, a tiny woman who stood tall could be the shaman right from the silk route shamans she was researching. There was so much of presence, so frail yet so strong, the shadows cast a spell, and she appeared ancient one moment and very young the next. It could be playing of the flames that created it. Alana was reluctant to break the mystic power of the scene and the reigning energy of the frail woman, that Alana called ‘The Cantadora’ in her mind. The keeper of stories.
"There are many Feminisms," says Kamla Bhasin, who has worked in this field for close to 50 years. "They are often contextual, and are not just about choice, but about the politics of what we choose."
“There are many Feminisms,” says Kamla Bhasin, who has worked in this field for close to 50 years. “They are often contextual, and are not just about choice, but about the politics of what we choose.”
I heard the word Feminism only when I was 26 and had finished my studies in Rajasthan and Germany, had subsequently worked in Germany as a lecturer for one year and joined an NGO in Rajasthan. However, I had some “dangerous” feminist tendencies to rebel and resist, challenge and change as a child.
While I was growing up in rural Rajasthan with five siblings, going to local government schools, I did not like, approve of, or follow the rules and choices imposed on girls.